This review was updated at 4:52 p.m.
“Game 6,” the first screenplay by one of America’s great living novelists, Don DeLillo, is poorly served by Michael Hoffman’s flat, soporific direction. A kind of comic variation on the Stations of the Cross transferred to the ordeals of a Gotham playwright, pic feels indifferent and empty. Theatrical options appear chancier than hero Nicky Rogan’s bad day, with cable play being the best this disappointing project can hope for.
Although there are myriad shortcomings in Hoffman’s helming, it’s painful to report that the author’s script also is fraught with problems. Dialogue scenes are poorly developed, and absurdities that may have worked on paper simply don’t play on film. The classic DeLillo concerns with systemic collapse, paranoia and creative anomie are lacking in comparison to the complexly realized worlds in his masterful novels like “Underworld” or his under-appreciated plays, such as “The Day Room.”
DeLillo manipulates the underlying concept of his 2003 novel, “Cosmopolis,” in which a Manhattan capitalist spends his day in a taxi caught in traffic. Here, Nicky (Michael Keaton), a successful author of commercial comedies whose most personal play is having its Broadway premiere, spends the day jumping in and out of taxis, running into loved ones and friends along the way.
Like most DeLillo heroes, Nicky is burdened by a dread of matters beyond his control — in this case, the threat New York’s most powerful critic, Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey Jr.), will kill the play; the worry that lead star Peter Redmond (Harris Yulin) will succumb to a parasitic infection in his brain; and the stress of the Red Sox facing the Mets in game six of the 1986 World Series.
Framing it all like a Greek chorus from above is the ever-present voice of existentialist radio traffic reporter Lone Eagle (David Guion).
Perhaps because the radio reports involve pure text delivered by a voice, it makes for one of the pic’s more distinct and striking touches. One-on-one contacts between Nicky and others seem comparatively bland and underdeveloped, as with his first encounter with jaded daughter Laurel (Ari Graynor), who reports that her mother Lillian (Catherine O’Hara) is filing for divorce from Nicky.
The news doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on Nicky, who, after a roll in the sack with his backer Joanne (Bebe Neuwirth), sees feared critic Schwimmer’s face on the cover of New York magazine. The critic is further demonized by Nicky’s fellow playwright pal Elliott (Griffin Dunne), a scruffy starving artist who hasn’t been the same since a Schwimmer slam in print.
A charming and human meeting with Nicky and his sickly father (Tom Aldredge), and Nicky’s growing fear of a Red Sox loss, points the pic in a more hopeful direction. But, Hoffman’s handling of the building mental pressures inside Nicky is pedestrian and lacking in style, including Nicky’s viewing of the Bosox’s disastrous Game 6. (Whether or not this torture is undercut by a viewer’s knowledge of the Red Sox recent World Series win is a matter for conjecture.)
In his most literate role in years, Keaton appears to take pleasure in sinking his teeth into DeLillo’s language, as well as embodying a total sense of bewilderment. Thesps who surround him work hard to breath life and irony into the film, but there’s only so much they can do, and the brief time given to gifted artists like Neuwirth, Harris Yulin and O’Hara feels like a cheat.
Downey has fun dressing up in a disguise that’s half-Warhol, half-Almodovar, a theater critic who’s far more dimensional and human than the fearsome stereotype Nicky had formed in his head.
Production values rate no more than that of quality cable, while even renowned band Yo La Tengo’s score leaves little impression.